* Yesterday, we added a "Bottom of the Barrel" feature to our sidebar to track the ineptitude of the bottom third of the Twins' lineup, since it seems we have been commenting on the poor performance of the Twins' 7-9 hitters almost daily as of late. When I first calculated the results yesterday, the three lineup spots had produced a .192 average and .269 slugging percentage since the All-Star break. Last night's trio went 3-for-11 to raise those numbers slightly, but still the game produced yet another shining example of how utterly worthless the bottom of the lineup has been.
The return of Rondell White in the No. 7 spot predictably did nothing to boost the lineup, as he went 0-for-4. Nick Punto had a pair of singles and Jason Tyner had one as well; however, despite the three hits, the 7-9 hitters still managed to make 11 outs in 11 at-bats thanks to some hideous baserunning.
In the third inning, Punto hit a one-out single, but was caught stealing during the next at-bat. In the fifth, Tyner singled and then Punto hit a grounder that snuck through the infield thanks to a hit-and-run play by the Twins putting Toronto shortstop Royce Clayton out of position. Tyner moved up to third and Punto checked in at first on the play, and the Twins had runners on the corner with no outs, trailing by one run. It looked like the start of a 2006-style "piranha rally," but this year those have been hard to come by and last night was no different. The Twins managed to get zero runs in the inning, as Tyner and Punto both ran into outs on the base-paths on the very next play. Tyner foolishly tried to score from third on a sharp grounder to first by Luis Castillo, and was retired after a short run-down. During Tyner's misadventure, Punto tried to advance from first to third, and he was easily thrown out at third base after Tyner was tagged out.
The Twins entered the ninth inning down by two runs, and Hunter led off the inning with a double. He then moved up to third on a pop-out by Jason Kubel, giving the Twins a runner on third base with one out. And yet, it felt like the game was essentially over because those 7-9 spots were due up. True to form, White struck out and Tyner hit a lazy fly ball to center to end the game.
As you can see, the .200 average and .270 slugging percentage don't even begin to tell how hapless the 7-9 spots in the Twins' lineup have been over the past couple weeks (and for the majority of the season). Here's something to keep in mind: the average major-league player hits around .265 and slugs about .420. Think about how much of a difference it would make to stick even a couple average hitters into the bottom of that lineup.
* Last week I wrote about two relatively simple moves the Twins could make to improve their fledgling offense. One of those moves was calling up Brian Buscher from Rochester to replace Punto as the regular third baseman. In the next seven games after I wrote the article, Buscher went just 4-for-23 (.174) and saw his season average at Rochester drop from .347 to .297. However, between the two games of Rochester's double-header yesterday, Buscher went 5-for-8 with a double, three runs scored and an RBI, bringing his average back up to .321. Meanwhile, Punto has played in every single game since the All-Star break for the Twins and has batted .250/.275/.375 with five strikeouts and one walk.
* Indeed, you have to wonder how many more gaffes Punto can make while maintaining his everyday spot in the lineup. The aforementioned poor hitting line does not tell the whole story; Star Tribune blogger Howard Sinker wrote earlier this week about the numerous mistakes the third baseman has been making in every aspect of the game:
Nick Punto’s .214 batting average is troubling enough, but he’s also managing to make mistake after mistake in other parts of his game — the hustle and defense parts that are supposed to make up for his lack of hitting. Sunday, he failed to tag up at second on Jeff Cirillo’s sacrifice fly and has to return to second when the ball was caught. Saturday, he got picked off second base. Friday, he made a throwing error that allowed the Angels their first run, a throw he never should have tried to make. Thursday afternoon, against Detroit, his was timid on a ground ball that went into left field. That’s four blunders in four games.You can add last night's costly baserunning mistake to that list. I have always liked Punto and by no means am I trying to demean him with all this, but his play has been absolutely atrocious and he looks like a player who has totally lost his confidence. The fact that he continues to be penciled into the starting lineup each night is unbelievable -- the Twins need to find a way to get him back into his utility role where he can actually be of some value.